New Kensington-Arnold officials considering moving 10 Commandments monument from high school
New Kensington-Arnold School District officials are considering alternate locations for the embattled Ten Commandments monument at Valley Junior-Senior High School.
“We are exploring our options,” Superintendent John Pallone said in response to a question Thursday from school board member Ron Balla about whether the district is going to move the monument. It has been the subject of a legal battle for four years.
Pallone said officials have reached out to organizations to gauge their willingness to accept the monument that stands in front of the New Kensington high school between a walking bridge and the gymnasium.
Pallone said he believes an organization is interested, but he declined to name the possible recipient until a move is confirmed.
No court order issued
There has been no court order requiring the monument be moved, and Pallone said there's been no settlement of the federal lawsuit filed in September 2012 by district resident Marie Schaub, her adolescent daughter and the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.
The plaintiffs argue the 60-year-old Decalogue on public school property is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.
The New Kensington branch of the Fraternal Order of Eagles donated the monument as part of a nationwide movement in response to the 1956 release of the movie “The Ten Commandments.”
The circumstances of the donation and the Decalogue's long-term presence at Valley High School have been cited by the district as evidence the monument has a historic and secular purpose, not a purely religious one.
A similar monument placed at a Connellsville Area school was ruled unconstitutional last year in response to another Freedom from Religion Foundation lawsuit.
The federal judge did not require the monument's removal in that case because the challenging student no longer attended classes at the Connellsville school. But the district opted to move the monument to a neighboring church.
The same federal judge last summer dismissed the New Kensington-Arnold lawsuit because he determined Schaub and her daughter did not encounter the monument frequently enough to have legal standing to sue.
He did not rule on the root issue of whether the monument was unconstitutional.
A federal appeals court last month overturned the ruling and determined Schaub, and possibly the Freedom From Religion Foundation, have standing.
The case was sent back to federal court in Pittsburgh.
The plaintiffs have expressed confidence the New Kensington-Arnold case should have a similar resolution as the Connellsville case.
1st hint of moving monument
The brief discussion at Thursday's New Kensington-Arnold School Board meeting was the first public indication the district may consider moving their monument.
Pallone declined to elaborate on the likelihood of removing the monument.
But Pallone told Balla district officials have gone as far as to consider asking for help from the Northern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center to construct a base for the Decalogue at a new location and to seek assistance from a monument company to move the large Ten Commandments.
Balla questioned whether the Eagles organization, the original donor, is a potential recipient.
Pallone said another group is interested and would have the right of refusal, but the Eagles would be the next group to be considered.
Liz Hayes is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-226-4680.